How to Use The Fridge in Your Motorhome

Keeping It Cool

How To Use The Fridge in Your Motorhome

A fridge is one of the many luxuries that come with owning a motorhome. Whether it's being able to store fresh, easy to grab meals or reaching for a chilled beverage after a long day of driving, there are so many benefits to having a fridge while travelling Australia.

However, the fridge in your motorhome is a lot different to your fridge at home. Given it will be exposed to a whole host of varying temperatures, it’s important to understand its mechanics and how to keep it cool and functioning optimally. 


How does a motorhome fridge work?


The two most common types of fridges are 2-way (compressor) and 3-way (absorption) fridges. 


2-way/compressor fridge


This fridge operates similarly to a fridge at home. It uses a 12/24V powered by your vehicle or the additional ‘house’ battery in your motorhome, or it can also run on 240V power when you’re hooked up to a caravan park powered site. 


3-way/absorption fridges


Similarly to the 2-way/ compressor fridge, the 3-way/ absorption fridge can run on 12/24V powered by your vehicle or motorhome ‘house’ batteries. You also have the option of running on 240V from a powered site too. But, as the name suggests, the 3-way/ absorption fridge can also run a third way using LPG gas. 

Regardless of which model you choose, the fridge will be powered by your motorhome 12V battery when you are driving. The 12V battery is typically trickle charged by a solar panel to keep it powered when you aren’t connected to power. The 3-way needs to be connected to batteries while driving for safety reasons such as avoiding possible gas leaks. However, this trickle charge is limited. If you choose a 2-way fridge and want to extend your time off-grid, it can be worthwhile looking into modifying your self-contained vehicle and adding a second solar panel to support your power needs.


How do you turn on an RV refrigerator?



If you are using your motorhome just for holidays, the fridge may be turned off for long periods of time while in storage. It is good to know how to turn it on when you’re ready for an adventure. There are a few extra steps to go through in order to get your motorhome fridge going compared to a regular fridge at home.


Step 1: Turn on the 12V switch

Turn on the 12V isolator switch. This is a square-looking switch with a large knob that you can easily turn to the ‘on’ position. It’s usually next to the fridge.


Step 2: Turn on the fridge isolator switch

The location of this switch varies between models of motorhomes. It may be a simple flick switch arranged in a panel alongside other switches for your water pump. Or, it could be an extra switch in the middle of a regular power point near the fridge itself.


Step 3: Choose your desired temperature

There should be a lever or dial inside the fridge for you to slide up or down to make your fridge warmer or cooler. We recommend keeping it at medium temperature to help with energy efficiency.


What is the best fridge for a motorhome?


Choosing the right fridge can really enhance your experience of travelling on the road. Having the proper facilities to cater to how many people are in the motorhome and your travelling habits can mean the difference between a smooth and easy trip and a stressful trip. As such, when purchasing a new fridge, there are a few factors to consider to ensure you get the right one for you, including:


  • Total capacity 

Fridges vary in size from as small as 40L to 185L. Will you stock up frequently at local farmers' markets, or do you require ample space to store a large quantity for a big family?


  • Freezer capacity 

Do you need freezer space to store frozen meals or other perishables?


  • Weight 

As with all motorhome appliances, it's good to consider how much additional weight this will add to your self-contained vehicle 


  • Power consumption 

Calculate how long you want to be able to run your fridge and other appliances off-grid in between plugging into 240V power. This will give you a good indication of how much solar you will need to power your motorhome.


  • Travel destination

As your fridge temperature will be affected by extreme external weather conditions, it's worthwhile considering which areas you will spend the majority of your time in


Once you’ve considered what you require from your new RV fridge, it’s then time to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of 2-way vs. 3-way fridges: 


  • 2-way/ 12V fridge 

These fridges do make a small noise to run, but are far more efficient overall for those looking to alternate between hooking up to a powered site and free camping. A 2-way fridge is also traditionally better at staying cool in more extreme temperatures. 


  • 3-way motorhome fridge

As the gas flow heat exchange works by removing heat from within the unit, rather than creating cold air like the compressor, these are much quieter and typically more efficient. This can be a great option for those looking to get off the grid as it only requires around nine kilos of gas to run for 2-3 weeks. However, these do not typically do as well with efficiency or cooling in hotter climates and can add additional safety checks to ensure that the gas is turned off before driving. 


Overall, the 2-way fridges are the clear winner when it comes to efficiency in the hotter Australian climate and adaptability to being plugged into power. However, it really comes down to personal preference at the end of the day. 


How to pack your motorhome fridge efficiently




As your motorhome fridge will typically be smaller than your fridge at home, it does take a little practice to be able to pack the fridge to optimise its capacity and efficiency. Techniques to practice include:


  • Make sure your fridge has been turned on overnight before packing it
  • Try not to overload the fridge so that it works effectively
  • Spread out food so that it cools more evenly
  • To mitigate overloading, try to buy fresh produce as you travel
  • Always store heavier items in the colder section at the bottom of the lower shelves. This will prevent it from moving if you hit bumps while driving.
  • Your motorhome fridge door should be securely closed at all times


Once you’ve packed your fridge a few times, you’ll pick it up in no time. 


What's the best way to clean your motorhome fridge?


Packing your fridge properly is the best way to prevent mess to start with. Some roads in Australia are bumpy, so you want to avoid spillage. Aside from that, cleaning your motorhome fridge is very similar to cleaning your fridge at home.


Start by emptying contents and scrubbing all surfaces with cleaning spray and a cloth to prevent mould. Gloves are advised if you’re using strong cleaning products, especially when removing mould. And don’t forget to clean motorhome fridge vents, as this is an essential element of the fridge’s efficiency. To do this, simply remove the vent cover and clear any dust and debris.


Should you leave your RV refrigerator on all of the time?


It’s a common misconception that leaving an RV fridge on all the time will prolong its life. Motorhome refrigerators are designed to be turned on and off frequently, so you won’t do any harm to them by doing so. 


When getting ready to head out on a trip, turn it on 24 hours before you plan to use it so it has a chance to cool down. Once you have finished your trip, turn it off and give it a good clean before storing your motorhome for a while. It is also a good idea to leave fridge doors open so your fridge can fully defrost. Keeping the door ajar when in storage will allow airflow to prevent any residual moisture from turning into mould. 


Is the open road calling you?


While using and maintaining your fridge may seem a little daunting at first, it really can be made simple by ensuring you follow all the steps. Knowing how to use your fridge efficiently will help make your upcoming motorhome trip as smooth as possible. 


If you’re looking to refurbish or modify your motorhome, stop by a KEA certified dealership to chat with one of our RV campervan sales teams. They have a wealth of knowledge and can help you decide between the 2-way/ 12V motorhome fridges and the 3-way motorhome fridges. 


If you’re still searching or looking to upgrade to the perfect motorhome for your adventures, check out the KEA website to see the range of motorhomes for sale including KEA ex-rental campervans.